Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Prince of Persia Trilogy (PS3)

The Prince of Persia Trilogy contains the original Sands of Time trilogy from the PS2 era.  It upgrades the games to 720p HD resolution, widescreen presentation and Trophy support.

Prince of Persia:  The Sands of Time

Prince of Persia:  The Sands of Time was originally a (but not exclusive to) PS2 game, now remastered in 720p and released with the other two PS2-era Prince of Persia games for the PS3, with Trophy and 3D support.  While the graphics are sharper with the higher resolution, it is still noticeably blocky and undefined.  Apart from the upscaling, no other efforts have been made to improve it any further.  The gameplay is split between combat, platforming and puzzle solving.  The combat involves dodging, basic slashing and using the environment to your advantage.  You will need to time your dodges and evades properly against the enemy.  Unfortunately, the game has not aged very gracefully.  The combat is clunky in the beginning and it can be frustrating when you're forced to fight in small enclosed spaces against multiple enemies.  It's actually quite annoying when they end up ganging up on you timing their hits such that you get hit consecutively.  Even worse are where they target your companion instead and you have to go out of your way to attack those monsters or risk a game over.

Combat encounters have a seemingly unending respawning of enemies, which drains the enjoyment from fighting.  It ends up being that the waves of enemies just keep on coming and coming and you are not sure if you are actually killing them.  Once you get used to the combat though, you will learn to use specific moves to defeat enemies faster.  You can tell which moves are best to use on which enemies and whether they block certain combos.  For the platforming sections, these are definitely the funner parts of the game.  The Prince can wall-run, climb poles and do heaps of acrobatic leaps.  However, you will have to contend with the Prince's slow walk.  Like the spiritual successor Assassin's Creed series, there will be times where the Prince will not do what you wanted, or seemingly jump off a pole to his death.  Then there's the problem of fighting the camera.  While you can freely move the camera, it will suddenly snap back to an angled view to show the player where to go.  This is helpful but during a lot of the times, it just disorientates and annoys you and you suddenly run back since the camera angle shifted 180 degrees.  You will also have to fight the camera during combat since it likes to lock onto an enemy which is not ideal when you need to deal with multiple enemies and need to rotate the cameras to keep all of them in view.

Environmental puzzles are usually easy to figure out and require you to pull levers or do something in a certain order.  It is nothing too exhausting and there will be timed sections involving traps such as spikes and spinning saws.  The plot is set in Persia where the Prince and his father, along with their army pass through India.  They attack the Maharaja's palace, steal the Dagger of Time and unwittingly release the Sands of Time, transforming everyone into Sand Monsters.  The Prince must go and undo the damage he has done.  He is joined by the Maharaja's daughter, Farah, who also aids in combat.  It is game over if Farah dies though, whether this be through enemies attacking her or the stupid AI causing her to fall into a spiked pit.  She also tends to shoot the Prince during combat instead of the enemy, funny the first time around, not so much towards the end when you are already swamped without dealing with friendly fire.  Once the Prince obtains the Dagger, he has the ability to rewind time and this is a major game mechanic.  You can use this ability at any time and allows you to redo platforming sections without repeating the whole thing again from the last checkpoint.  You can even use it during combat which helps as it rewinds the events such that you know an enemy is going to attack and you can dodge instead of being critically hit like the first time around.

The Dagger has limited uses dictated via gauge, which can be replenished through killing enemies.  Secrets include sand clouds to increase the amount of times you can rewind time and fountains which increase the Prince's health.  Both are extremely helpful.  The game utilizes save points but they are quite generous and evenly spaced.  Unfortunately, the same is hampered by glitches.  Most of the glitches here are mildly annoying.  Audio glitches seem to be the most common as dialogue is muted at times and drowned out by the background music at others.  Voices echo like they are speaking in a chamber yet they are outside in the open.  Perhaps the worst glitch of all happens during the later part of the game.  Be sure to save on multiple save slots because if you save near a spike pit or some other hazard, it automatically repositions Farah and this might so happen to be on top of the spike pit.  Thus, you cannot continue because every time you reload the save point, she dies instantly and it is game over.

It is beyond infuriating that a glitch this game-breaking was not fixed, resulting in you restarting the game from the beginning which is a massive pain.  The only saving grace is that the game is short once you've played it through once and know where to go (the game can be finished within 5 hours easily, whereas a first playthrough may take 7-8 hours).  The last section was a bit annoying in that you lose the ability to rewind time, meaning when you use trial and error to determine your way through the platforming sections and accidentally died, you are dropped back to the last checkpoint.  It isn't too far back but it's just as annoying that you have to climb those sections again.  The game lacks traditional bosses, there are really only two of them.  The final boss was anti-climactic and was extremely easy.  Overall, Prince of Persia:  The Sands of Time is at its best, a fun game.  However, it is hampered by glitches and overabundance of enemies which drains a lot of the fun from the already clunky combat system.  Nevertheless, it is still worth a playthrough since the Prince himself is charming and the platforming is enjoyable.

Prince of Persia:  Warrior Within

Prince of Persia:  Warrior Within is the sequel to The Sands of Time and made a drastic change to the series.  The most obvious of which is the change to needlessly become more "dark" and "edgy".  This is coupled with metal music which is at terrible odds with the game.  Of course, it depends on your preferences but since there was nothing wrong with the more colourful and fun The Sands of Time, this feels unwarranted and shows off the trend at the time of making games more "mature".  Combat was weak in The Sands of Time and thus Warrior Within revamps it.  Unfortunately, it feels even worse.  Conceptually, it sounds fantastic since there are additional combos and ability to wield two weapons but it ends up just coming off as terrible.  There are no invincibility frames therefore you can still (and often) get hit during dodges or long kill animations.  The Prince is easily staggered even during attacks and he is slow at initiating such that the enemies can strike before his attacks even land.  Enemies will frequently gang up and do consecutive hits which will deal heaps of damage.  It requires the player to do a lot of blocking until the timing is right to do a few hits.

What makes the combat beyond infuriating is that enemies are massive damage sponges.  It takes forever to kill them by slashing since your attacks are weak (you will often resort to throwing them off the edge in later sections just to get through them faster).  Enemies love blocking so the logical thing to do would be to vault over them right?  In some genius move by the developer, the difference between vaulting over an enemy to land behind him (useful) and vaulting away from an enemy (useless) is how long you push the analogue stick toward the enemy.  This is a terrible system and you will be jumping away from the enemy you wanted to backstab 50% of the time.  Despite the Prince automatically facing an enemy (as enemy respawns, this makes passing a section without fighting much more annoying), the auto aim is a pile of rubbish.  You will frequently miss with the Prince slashing at thin air.  You can wield two weapons and pick up dropped weapons from defeated enemies, which changes the type of combos the Prince can use.  However, the secondary weapon breaks with usage.  Throughout the story, you will get new swords that are more powerful, which is overshadowed by new stronger enemies that somehow take even longer to defeat them than before.

The constant focus on combat in a game where the platforming are the best elements is perplexing as it makes the game unfun.  The rewind feature makes a return but is significantly more limited than The Sands of Time purely because in the previous game, it was easy to gain back the sands you used.  In Warrior Within, it will not refill for most of the time until you defeat an enemy... but thanks to the trial and error platforming, which is where you need it most, you will quickly empty the six Sand Tanks that you have.  Have fun seeing the Game Over screen multiple times as the Prince refuses to do what you want him to do.  The camera can be controlled but once again, you will be fighting against it.  The camera will abruptly shift during platforming sections so you end up accidentally forcing the Prince to go back towards a hazard.  It doesn't always allow you to pull the camera behind the Prince since a wall will be in the way.  The Prince is still as agile as ever with platforming sections involving him running on walls, swinging from ropes, pulling levers and avoiding spiked traps.

Warrior Within tries to do away with linearity and make the adventure more "open".  This does not work well since it is still extremely linear in terms of what you can do and where the developers want you to go.  It is often confusing in where you need to go because there is a heavy emphasis on backtracking.  The whole game takes place in the one location and in an attempt to boost the length to 10-15 hours for a first playthrough, 50% of the game will be spent backtracking, doing the same platforming puzzles for the 5th time, and fighting the same group of enemies for the 5th time.  The final section of the game is a massive offender since it is a confusing mess and showcases the terrible implementation of the map and its objectives.  It is hard to tell where you need to go at certain points as you are backtracking through areas for the tenth time (no joke, it is literally the tenth time, if not more).  What makes this worse is that if you deviate from the developer's expected path, prepare for glitches galore that may force you to restart the game.  The "lovely" people at Ubisoft thought it was a great idea to lazily port this directly to the PS3 without any attempts at fixing the numerous glitches of the game.

This game is a glitchfest, with numerous game breaking bugs, numerous visual and sound glitches and numerous annoying bugs.  Given that the original PS2 game was infamous for its bugs, it is extremely disappointing and cashgrabbing of Ubisoft to not even attempt to iron out some of them.  Then again, this is the developer who released Assassin's Creed III and Assassin's Creed Unity half-finished and patched it up months later.  The plot takes place years after The Sands of Time where in the time subsequent to releasing the Sands, the Prince is now being hunted by Dahaka, the guardian of the timeline.  The Dahaka aims to kill the Prince and thus the Prince travels to the Island of Time in an effort to prevent the Sands from being created in the first place to avoid his grisly fate.  As it is completely set on the island, you will end up constantly switching between the past and the present (with the present being more ruins and the past being a normal castle).  Backtracking occurs within the first hour or two.

The female characters are all scantily clad and coupled with the grimier elements (abundance of greys with barely any color to the environments), a more serious Prince (complete with a gravely voice and redesign to make him look unrecognizable compared to the previous game), Warrior Within has lost all the charm that made The Sands of Time enjoyable despite its flaws.  The Prince is an unlikeable selfish bastard, only concerned with saving himself.  The plot has its (limited) moments and it doesn't reach its potential at all.  It involves time travel and changing your fate, reference events in the past with the present.  It ends with shamelessly leading to the sequel.  There are 50 collectables in the form of unlockable artworks from breaking chests, and hidden life upgrades.  You will unlock more Sand Tanks and abilities as the story progresses.  Overall, Prince of Persia:  Warrior Within changes so much of the formula that it didn't need it.  With the shift to a darker look and focus on gore and splatters of blood, Warrior Within lost all of its charm and fun.  It has a frustrating combat system and way too much backtracking.  While obviously, some may love it, Warrior Within still feels like a disappointment and so much gone in the wrong direction.

Prince of Persia:  The Two Thrones

Prince of Persia:  The Two Thrones is the third and final game in the original Sands of Time trilogy.  Following Warrior Within, thankfully, it is not as dark as that game and not as upbeat as The Sands of Time.  Two Thrones is smack bang right in the middle in tone between the two games and as such, gains back the fun while also being "mature".  The Prince has several new abilities to help keep the platforming fresh, although most of it remains familiar.  For example, he can use the dagger to hang from the wall and activate switches, he can crawl up and down narrow gaps, climb chains, and can jump diagonally at certain points.  Central to the gameplay (and the story to a degree) is the Dark Prince.  At certain points in the game, the Prince is transformed into the Dark Prince against his will.  The Dark Prince is similar to the Sand Wraith from Warrior Within in that his health keeps dropping unless you defeat enemies or smash items in the environment to restore it.

While he is in the Dark Prince form, he gains the ability to use the chain on his left arm to swing across bigger gaps and to attack enemies.  The Dark Prince is stronger than his normal form helping to eliminate enemies faster to restore health.  While it sounds terrible in theory with the combination of platforming and decreasing health (effectively a time limit thrust upon the player), most of the sections aren't too hard.  There are certain sections where it forces you to rush through levels when you have to dodge obstacles (meaning even one hit can cause you to fail, forcing you to restart from a checkpoint a bit back) or when it is not obvious on where to go, yet the clock is still ticking.  The combat system uses Warrior Within's as a base but makes it less frustrating.  Hitting the enemies you want is easier.  You still use a combination of the square and triangle buttons to create combos.

A secondary weapon can be picked up from defeated enemies for stronger attacks.  A bar is added to the secondary weapon so you can tell when it is about to be discarded from overuse.  Perhaps the best addition is the ability to stealth kill where you can sneak up to an enemy and initiate a short quick time event to kill them quickly and silently.  This means you don't have to be bogged down by the combat system all the time.  It adds a puzzle aspect as almost all encounters can be completed without an all-out brawl (it depends if you are patient enough in some scenarios).  Lastly, there is the addition of chariot segments in which the Prince controls a chariot rushing through the narrow streets of Babylon, while fending off the enemy.  It's quite exhilarating and doesn't outstay its welcome.  Out of the platforming and combat, the platforming as per usual wins as the funnest parts of the game.  You will be exploring the city of Babylon this time around and traverse across the rooftops, deep underground and inside the palace.

Two Thrones has a linear progression, giving you a clear indication on where to go most of the time.  It is a huge improvement over the confusing layout and backtracking nature of the previous game.  The usual control quirks remain such as the Prince jumping to his death or not performing the combo you wanted.  The Prince gains the rewind time ability soon after the start of the game, with initially three uses but can be increased to up to six.  This means that you can retry platforming segments or dodge enemy attacks now that you know they are going to attack.  Hidden collectables take the form of fountains that increases the Prince's health.  In terms of the plot, it continues straight after Warrior Within where the Prince returns to Babylon with Kaileena, only to see it under attack.  Kaileena is taken away and the Prince must trek through the city in order to find her.  He meets up with a few familiar faces, which is a nice bonus for players who had completed the previous two games.

The Prince mysteriously gains an alter ego in the for of the Dark Prince, who is a voice in his head whenever he isn't physically transformed.  The dialogue is initially quite funny but can get annoying really quickly, especially when you're standing still and the inner Dark Prince voice just won't shut up.  The music doesn't have a trace of the heavy metal, which is great.  Two Thrones also isn't as glitchy but you'll still most likely encounter some.  There will be the occasional freezing requiring a forced restart of the PS3, which is especially annoying when you have just completed a long puzzle and now have to do it again.  The game is around the length of the first game which is just the right length because none of the gameplay ever outstays its welcome.  Overall, Prince of Persia:  The Two Thrones melds what made The Sands of Time and Warrior Within great into its own uniqueness.  We get fun platforming sections from the first game with a better combat system that was evolved from the second game.  The story does its job and the new additions help make the game less frustrating.  The Two Thrones is a fun game and a good end to the trilogy.

The Prince of Persia Trilogy is fun but there are a few questionable decisions.  It is definitely a lazy port since Ubisoft did not bother to fix any of the glitches, a few of them being game breaking requiring a restart of the game, which is disgusting.  On the other hand, the platforming in the games are fun and the Prince charming.  It is worthwhile purchase if you haven't played the games before.


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